Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bet Sizing Madness

There’s been a lot written about proper bet sizing in tournament poker, perhaps more so than any other topic.  And rightly so, since it is one of the most important skills one can appreciate.  Notice I said “appreciate” and not “master,” as there is much conflicting advice, and the fact is that no one is exactly 100% right, nor 100% wrong.  Many different “tools” work for different people.

As in so much of poker, the correct answer, if there is one at all, is “it depends.” How much to bet depends on:
  • The stage of the tournament (just beginning, antes, near the bubble, final table)
  • Stack sizes (yours, theirs)
  • Playing styles (yours, theirs, obvious and not so much)
  • Your position at the table
And hey, we haven’t even mentioned the cards! (yours, their potential holding, and what cards are on the table).

Nevertheless, there are some simple guidelines to think about whenever you wish to “commit chips to the pot.”  OK, we need a simpler way of saying that…let’s say INVEST, because that’s what you really are doing – investing some of your stack in order to increase your stack, with the idea that eventually, you’ll have ALL the chips (we call that “winning”).
  • You must have a reason for investing (making a bet), whether you’re initiating action, calling action, or raising the stakes.  “Obtaining information” isn’t a great reason, by the way.
  • You must think about what may happen when you invest – will you be called, raised, or will everyone fold?
  • You must already have a plan to deal with all of the potential scenarios.  Decide on how you will react in “part two” of your plan BEFORE you initiate “part one.”
  • You should use investing (betting) smartly, but not predictably, so that your actions may obtain the maximum advantage.
Before we go on to any examples, let’s talk about that last item.  One reason you may not fully appreciate gains on your investments is that your opponents know what your bets mean.  If you always raise it up 3-times with aces, eventually even the donk in the corner will catch on.  Your continuation bets, when you miss with your ace, stand a good chance of being raised, putting you in a predicament.  Worse yet, when you DO hit, you won’t get much on your investment.

Therefore, perhaps the most important aspect of bet sizing isn’t the amount of the investment, but “what message does the investment convey to my opponents?” If they can’t figure it out – that’s a GOOD thing.  You want to be able to read your opponents, but you don’t want them to read you. 

Until we play the game face up, the most information out there is related to betting patterns.

Ergo, how much to invest must have purpose, yet that purpose must not be easily discernible.  Wow, no wonder bet sizing is a difficult problem.

Next time, we’ll talk about the simplest bet in this regard – one that many players make without thinking – the continuation bet.

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